Yanks, Rays give fans a taste of October

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - If you did not enjoy the three-game series that just wrapped up between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, then you may want to find something else to do come October, because playoff baseball is obviously not for you.

This series served as the appetizer to what I think will culminate with an epic American League Championship Series entree. The only question remaining is where Game 7 of that series will be played.

"This was an incredibly intense series on both sides," said Tampa manager Joe Maddon. "Every pitch mattered. Everybody was involved, and despite all those words, it was really a lot of fun."

A terrific pitcher's duel in the opener between American League Cy Young candidates CC Sabathia and David Price lived up to the hype, as neither pitcher allowed a run in Tampa's eventual 1-0 extra inning win. The second game was more of a slugfest and the Yankees prevailed 8-7 on a pinch-hit home run from Jorge Posada in the 10th, but it was September callup Greg Golson's laser from right field that gunned down Carl Crawford at third to end the game that had everyone talking.

"I don't think anyone in the park, including myself, thought he would get thrown out in that situation," Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "It's just good. Whoever would have thought that Greg Golson would make a huge play in the middle of a great pennant race? It was a good game for us."

Greg Golson (above) made a game-ending throw to gun down Carl Crawford at third base.
In Wednesday's finale it was another seldom-used player who made the difference, as Tampa, backed by two, two-run home runs off the bat of Dan Johnson, rallied for a 4-3 win to move a game in front of the Yankees in the loss column in the American League East with just over two weeks remaining in the regular season.

"If Roy Hobbs is The Natural, then I guess [Johnson's] 'The Super-Natural,'" added Maddon. "Because the other thing was fiction, this is non-fiction. So for that reason, what he's done to this point is really phenomenal."

The finale also featured a little controversy when Derek Jeter put on an acting performance in the seventh inning that would have made Sir Larry Olivier proud, as he danced around as if he was hit by a pitch that replays clearly showed hit the knob of his bat. Jeter, though, went to first, Maddon was ejected and Curtis Granderson homered in the next at-bat to put the Yanks in front.

"It was really obvious that the ball hit the bat," said Maddon. "There's times that it can be disputed that it hit the hand and the bat at the same time.

"But nobody's eyes are good enough to know that. Nobody's eyes are good enough to know that. I really can never agree with that call. ... I really thought the play would be reversed based on pure logic."

The whole event proved to be a moot point anyway when the Rays came right back in the home half of that frame, as Johnson's second home run of the contest put them ahead for good, .

"It's part of the game," said Jeter, who admitted to the acting job after the game. "I've been hit before and they said I wasn't hit. My job is to get on base, and fortunately for us it paid off at the time. I'm sure it would have been a bigger story if we would have won that game."

Speaking of which, why is Jeter seemingly getting a pass on this? If it had been A-Rod who pulled those kind of shenanigans, he would be getting destroyed by the media. Instead Jeter is being applauded for a smart baseball move.

Sorry, I have always been led to believe that those kind of things were beneath El Capitan.

Any who, it was a terrific series and I can't wait for Monday when the two teams go at it again in the start of a four-game set at Yankee Stadium. The Yanks probably need a series win in that one if they want to win the division, as the schedule favors the Rays down the stretch.

By the way, here is a nice little note that maybe only interests me, but the Rays have held a lead in 13 of the 14 games they have played against the Yankees this season. Although Tampa has won eight of those matchups, it holds just a two-run differential for the season series, 71-69.

But, like I pointed out a few weeks ago, it does not really matter. Barring a miracle run by Boston, which, by the way, hosts the Yankees in the last series of the year, both these teams are getting in.

The only question is who will have home-field advantage in the ALCS. And sorry Minnesota and Texas, these teams will meet in the ALCS.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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